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'Fracking' and shale gas

March 31, 2015 4:49 PM

The Issue in Brief

Liberal Democrats want to ensure that shale gas exploration and production do not have an adverse impact on the environment and are consistent with our efforts to tackle climate change. If the right safeguards are in place fracking and shale gas can have a role in energy supply as part of the transition to a low carbon future, by helping us to cut out 'dirty coal' as we develop renewable energy.

Background Detail

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) refers to a technique where water and sand is injected with high pressure into shale rock deep underground, to make it possible to extract natural gas or oil from said rock. Typically the horizontal fracturing occurs about a mile underground and the fractures are just a few millimetres in diameter.

Concerns about fracking: Concerns about fracking include damage to the landscape, noise pollution from heavy vehicles, leakage of methane into the atmosphere or local water supplies and that the process could cause earth tremors. For these reasons Liberal Democrats have instituted strict safeguards to deal with these risks.

The Government commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to review any risks of earth tremors caused by fracking and accepted all their recommendations to ensure that any risk is minimised. The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has confirmed that with appropriate regulation shale gas production and consumption would not increase and could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The CCC will be required to produce reports on the impact of fracking on UK carbon emissions and consistency with carbon budgets. Public Health England has also confirmed that with appropriate regulation any risks to health are manageable.

Thirteen "necessary conditions" will need to be met before fracking can take place, these include ensuring an Environmental Impact Assessment, independent inspections of wells, notification of local residents, and consultation with relevant water companies. Traffic movements and noise pollution are considered in judging any planning application and seismic monitoring will be in place in order to assess seismic risks. There will also be stringent regulation of the integrity of any wells drilled and of any fugitive methane emissions. Fracking will be banned in National Parks, Site of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Case for fracking and shale gas: Shale gas is the greenest fossil fuel - making only half the carbon footprint of electricity produced by coal. While we develop better renewable energy, shale gas provides a cleaner alternative to coal.

Most gas is consumed for household heating and industrial and commercial use, where fewer renewable solutions are available, only around a quarter is used for electricity generation. Gas is likely to be needed for domestic heating until the 2030s as there is currently no renewable heating source which can be provided at the necessary scale within that time period. Fracking will help reduce the UK's dependence on imports from the Middle East and elsewhere, increasing our energy security. Producing gas in the UK is more carbon efficient than importing it from thousands of miles away.

Liberal Democrats say

  • We take environmental concerns about fracking very seriously. We've ensured appropriate safeguards on water pollution, methane gas emissions, monitoring of seismic activity and protection of the local environment are in place.
  • In order to lead the fight against climate change we think shale gas can have a role as renewable energy develops as part of a "bridge" on our journey to zero carbon Britain.
  • Liberal Democrats in Government have made huge progress in bringing in more renewable power - doubling production in 4 years - moving to renewable energy remains our priority.

Labour

They say: Shale gas may have the potential to be part of UK's energy mix, but environmental concerns must be addressed first.

We say: We've been clear that fracking should only proceed with stringent safeguards in place.

Conservatives

They say: David Cameron wants to go "all out for shale" and claims that it is part of the solution to tackle climate change while boosting the economy.

We say: Shale gas is not a magic bullet that will solve the climate crisis. It is still a fossil fuel and contributes to the greenhouse effect. Our priority is to invest in green energy.

Green

They say: All fracking should be banned.

We say: It takes time to reach a zero carbon future, it is necessary to use shale gas to get there. We need shale gas in the short term to help us get rid of coal power and provide heating.

Key Statistics/Quotes

  • The carbon footprint when using shale gas to produce electricity is approximately 49% of the footprint made when producing electricity from coal.[ii]
  • Gas imports increased from 6.3 TWh 2002 to 535.1 TWh in 2013.[iii]
  • Domestic gas production decreased from 1197 TWh 2003 to 424.8 TWh 2013.[iv]
  • Sources of UK natural gas supply: Norway 38%, Qatar 12%, The Netherlands 8% and Belgium 7%. Domestic production: 35%.[v]

Q&A

Why not ban fracking?

Natural gas is the least bad of the fossil fuels, and in the time it takes to complete our zero-carbon transition it is better to use gas, including for heating and cooking, than to use electricity produced from coal.

Why not go "all out for shale"?

Climate change is a vast global problem and we must work for a zero-carbon future, this requires investments in renewable energy, shale gas is still a fossil fuel, the burning of which emits carbon.


[i] DECC - UK Energy Statistics p. 8. March, 2014

[ii] DECC - Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use p. 3 , Sept 2013

[iii] DECC - Historical gas data: gas production and consumption and fuel input 1920 to 2013, July 2014

[iv] Ibid

[v] U.S. Energy Information Administration, June 2014